Waters: Wheels in motion to change downtown Kelowna’s look

Long-range plans for some large lots call for highrises increasing in storeys as they go back from the lake.

Al Waters

The face of downtown Kelowna is changing—and not just because of new buildings popping up right now. Earlier this week, city council set the wheels in motion for possible redevelopment on four key sites in what the city is calling its civic precinct, most notably the site of the existing RCMP detachment building on Doyle Avenue to be vacated next year when the new police services building is completed on Cawston Avenue and the site of the existing Interior Health Unit building on Ellis Street, to be vacated when IH staff in the city move into the new IH Community Health and Services building at the corner of Doyle Avenue and Ellis Street.

The other two spots are a sliver of land on the south edge of the site that currently houses the Okanagan Heritage Museum and a parcel on the south edge of the land Prospera Place sits on. That land is currently part of the arena’s parking lot.

The long-range plan for the RCMP site on Doyle envisions a mixed-use residential tower up to 13 storeys in height, built on land the city would retain but lease to a developer.

The health unit site, owned by IH, could one day be home to a mixed-use development in a building as tall as 12 storeys.

The museum site land could also house a mixed-use residential-commercial building of up to 13 storeys, but that likely would not happen until the museum moves to a different location sometime in the future, say city staff. The site at Prospera Place could house a mixed-use tower of up to 12 storeys. While the civic precinct plan envisions a taller downtown, it also says the maximum height along Water Street between Pandosy and Cawston should be kept to six storeys, with buildings getting progressively taller on the roads farther away from the water. Building on the east side of Ellis could be as tall as 26 storeys in the future, according to the plan.

But not all the construction the city is looking at in the plan is going upward.

It still wants to extend the walkway that currently connects Prospera Place to the library parkade and include a civic plaza beside the parkade entrance. That project is expected to be the first step in the long-term plan. In recent years, Kelowna’s downtown has seen a great deal of developmental change. New buildings such as the Interior Health office tower, the new Innovation Centre, a new parkade beside Memorial Arena, an addition to the library parkade and revitalization of Bernard Avenue have all changed the city’s downtown skyline and streetscape.

Add to the mix the planned new hotel across from Kerry Park, a new visitor centre on the lakeshore across the street from that new hotel at Queensway and the soon-to-be closed Mill Street, and a host of other private residential buildings being planned in the area and the adjacent North End and you have a whole new look for the ‘heart’ of the city. The time is not here yet for ground-breaking on civic precinct plan projects, but the tools are being put in place to realize the vision when the time comes.

And that, as city council agreed by its vote to set the plan’s wheels in motion, is a huge step toward the future of downtown Kelowna.